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Friday, August 25, 2006

V: The Stem Cell Soap Opera Continues

Guest Blogger V is back with the latest on the embryonic stem (ES) cell issue:
Human stem cell lines can now be established from single cells removed from 8-cell embryos. This news is significant, but it is neither surprising nor unanticipated. This was done with mouse embryos last year and there have been some recent rumblings that a report of similar success with human embryos was imminent. Well, its here. More significantly however, this technological achievement (while commendable) does not really affect the core ethical issues with human ES cells. I submit that while this method is technically superior, it is not necessarily ethically better than what is already prevalent. In fact, making the claim that it is ethically better will damage the pro-stem cell movement in the long-term--- it will be falling into the trap of drawing arbitrary lines, making implicit concessions and opening up debates where none are necessary. Because, folks, even this technological advance still relies on IVF embryos. So one does not have to destroy the IVF embryo while establishing a stem cell line. But then what? What happens to the embryo from which the cell was taken? Is each such embryo always transferred into a mother in an IVF pregnancy attempt? And then what are its chances? Or does it go into a freezer like the 400,000 others and get destroyed eventually? Robb has written about the hypocrisy attendant to this. So, at the end of the day the embryo is still not actually better off than any other IVF embryo---so what’s really different? In my opinion, calling this new technique ‘ethically better’ is playing feel-good semantics.

The new reports also talk about possibly hitching this stem cell derivation procedure to PGD (pre-implantation genetic diagnosis). This brings about an issue that I have been tempted to raise on prior occasions and will now. The administration’s stance on the PGD issue is as fraught with hypocrisy as its stance on the IVF issue. Why do people perform PGD? Well, PGD is done to detect genetic defects that can lead to diseases like cystic fibrosis in IVF embryos before implantation. And what do you think people do with embryos that are shown to carry faulty genes? No one attempts to implant them; rather these embryos are destroyed. So if, as this administration claims, these embryos are ‘human life’, how is the selective destruction of these embryos conscionable? How is that acceptable over the destruction of any other IVF embryo? Moreover, is it OK then to destroy a newborn child who is diagnosed with an undesirable medical condition? (I know that sounds really harsh and extreme, but I’m following their logic here---After all, according to the administration’s ‘human life’ stance there should be no difference in value between that genetically defective pre-implantation embryo and that genetically defective newborn child, correct?) And why has the administration not embarked on a crusade to outlaw PGD since the day it took office? It has had plenty of time to do so, and clearly it claims to value human life soooooo much. Once again, you can clearly see the administration’s hypocrisy here. Hey, if you believe that pre-implantation embryos are ‘human life’, then march in the streets and urge the administration to outlaw IVF, PGD etc. And if you believe otherwise, urge them to make stem cell research fully legal and fundable. Enough of the politically expedient horse manure from the ignorant or the manipulative. Let us force them to take a position and have the integrity to back it up. As Robb pointed out in his original article only the Catholic Church has been really consistent on this issue---and so while I disagree with their view, it is hard for me not to respect the consistency in their stance. The administration’s stance merits no such respect.
Anyways, let us please return the focus of the human stem cell debate to the key issues: (1) The fact that ‘potential’ is vastly different from ‘inevitable potential’ and (2) Consequently that (as I’ve argued before) the idea of pre-implantation embryos being ‘human life’ is flawed.
And that, to quote Forrest Gump, is all I’m gonna say about that.
For now anyways.
I'd also like to point you to Darksyde over at Daily Kos who discusses the 5-year anniversary of the Bush administration's ban on federal funding for ES cell research. I'll be back with more on ES cells later today.

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